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Pak court asks govt to restore airing of channels blocked over Zardari report

Pak court asks govt to restore airing of channels blocked over Zardari report
Angry with Zardari: Protesters participate in a demonstration against the Pakistan government outside Birmingham's National Indoor Arena on August 7, 2010 in Birmingham, England. Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari, was due to address a political rally of his Pakistan People's Party at the venue later that day before travelling to Syria. Deadly flooding across Pakistan, has claimed the lives of more than 1,600 people and has forced hundreds of thousands from their homes, in what is the country's worst floods since 1929. Aid organisations estimate that over 12 million people have been affected by flooding.Photo: Getty Images / Daylife

A Pakistani court has ordered the federal and provincial governments to restore the transmission of Geo News and three other channels whose programmes have been blocked after they aired reports about a man hurling shoes at President Asif Ali Zardari. The ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) has said it had not ordered cable operators to block these channels and described reports about their programmes being blocked as "fabricated".

Lahore High Court Chief Justice Khwaja Muhammad Sharif Wednesday directed authorities to restore the transmissions of Geo News, ARY News, Royal TV and Aaj News and sought replies from the federal Information Minister and Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority chairman by August 19.

He gave the ruling in response to a petition filed by advocate Ashraf Gondal, who contended that the government blocked the transmissions of the leading channels to divert the country's attention from its failure to protect the life and property of people affected by the devastating floods in the country.

The Dawn newspaper said in an editorial Thursday, "Is is time the PPP’s Sindh leadership owned up to its petty war on Jang as well as Geo and ARY. While the channels are back on air, no sane mind will believe that the party workers acted on their own, pressured the cable operators to pull the plug and burnt copies of the paper without a wink from the party’s provincial hierarchy."

Geo news and the other channels had reported that a 60-year-old man had flung two shoes at Zardari while he was addressing a PPP convention in Birmingham though they fell far from him. Angry PPP workers protested outside the office of Geo News in Karachi and the channel was removed from cable networks in some areas of Sindh province.

"The blocking of news channels badly hampered relief operations in flood-hit areas as they are not being identified," Gonal claimed. He asked the court to summon PPP co-chairman Zardari to explain why his party leaders were committing illegal acts and putting curbs on the media. Chief Justice Sharif observed that no reply could be sought from Zardari.

Deputy Attorney General Naveed Inayat Malik opposed the petition, saying it was not maintainable as Gondal had not provided any order regarding the closure of transmission of news channels. "As far as a written order about blockage is concerned, I think there will be no written order in this regard. So it is not necessary for the petitioner to place the same on record.”

"The respondents are directed to immediately lift blockage on broadcasting of Geo, ARY, Royal and Aaj whether it was done orally or in writing under the order of any state functionaries," the Chief Justice said.

Although the broadcasters were able to get back on air for a few hours Wednesday and are being carried in most other parts of the country, staff in both broadcasters' newsrooms told New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) they do not expect to be able to broadcast in Karachi or Sindh in the coming days. Protests are widespread on both sides of the issue. The shutdown has not been ordered by the government, the stations' staffers say. According to Mazhar Abbas, ARY's deputy news director, "This is the president's party taking the law into its own hands."

Abbas confirmed local news reports that cable companies that had defied the demonstrations and returned them to the air were hit with another wave of protesters on Sunday, and many of their distribution cables around the city were cut. PPP demonstrators have left behind written messages on the stations' external walls, accusing the owners of being anti-Pakistan and being allied with India and Israel, both considered arch foes by many Pakistanis. The allegations are dangerous accusations to make in politically violent Karachi.

Journalists have waged their own demonstrations in Karachi and elsewhere since Monday.

"This is Pakistani politics at its worst. While the country faces a national calamity and the outside world scrambles to offer its assistance, the Pakistan Peoples Party can find nothing better to do than to try to close down media and stifle criticism of President Zardari," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator. "We call on the government to take control of this deteriorating situation and ensure the broadcasters return to the air immediately."

The demonstrations against GEO and ARY started Saturday night in Karachi, with angry crowds demanding cable companies stop carrying the stations. They were angered by reports the two stations carried about a heckler throwing his shoes at Zardari at a meeting in England. Much of the country's media had been critical of the president's trip while the country is faced with the worst flooding it has experienced in years, but the heckling and shoe throwing incident--a particularly insulting gesture in Pakistani culture, which the official government news agency The Associated Press of Pakistan denied had occurred--appears to have angered the PPP leadership in what is the party's heartland.

The United Nations says 1,600 people have been killed and nearly 14 million affected in the disaster. More than a week ago, flooding hit the northwest of the country. Rivers running south have hit many parts of Punjab and Sindh--the center of the PPP's support.

Date posted: August 12, 2010 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 186